You’re told time and time again that the college essay needs to be personal. It needs to give the reader a clear sense of who you are as a person; it’s a way to let the college that you are applying to know all about you. But, occasionally College Counselors and Essay Specialists read personal essays that are a little too personal. We then need to clarify this for students and parents, so allow us to do that here.
What topics are too personal?
Here are some of the personal topics to stay away from:
- Mental health: If you suffer from OCD, depression, an eating disorder, etc it really isn’t great material for your college essay. You don’t want to give colleges any reason to be concerned that you won’t be healthy enough to succeed in college.
- Fights/ Disagreements: Whether it’s with friends, parents, teachers, etc, this isn’t a good thing to write about. Think about how the reader, someone who doesn’t know you, could interpret it. Even if the other person is clearly at fault in your mind, it could make the essay reader think you are difficult to get along with.
- Problems in school: Perhaps it’s a teacher who was difficult to work with, or a principal who wasn’t fair, regardless, don’t write about it in your main essay. If there are issues from school that you feel need to be addressed in your application, the Disciplinary History Essay, or Additional Information Essay are more appropriate places for this.
What if you have already written the essay?
Oftentimes, writing about an extremely personal situation can be cathartic. Processing the circumstances, evaluating your feelings and putting it in essay form can be helpful. So go ahead and write that essay. But then rip it up or tuck it away. Don’t use it for college admission purposes. Now you have two options, either use some of the “too personal” story (more on that below) or start over from scratch. Your Campus Bound Counselor can help you with either choice.
If you still want to use part of this personal essay, do so in a way that makes the tone of the essay positive, demonstrates growth and maturity, and show some resolution. (eg, you had a falling out with your sister, but you worked hard to fix it, and now things are okay) That’s a very over-simplified example, but you get it. The other option is to significantly down-play the part that is “too personal.” Maybe mention some of it, but not make it the focus of your essay.
Writing the personal essay can be tough. And students with a very personal story to share can either be at an advantage or a disadvantage. If you aren’t sure if your topic is appropriate, it’s always a good idea to run it by a trusted adult, or better yet, a college expert.